Monday, November 14, 2011

Attempt 1 (Classroom Flipping)

It seems Classroom Flipping has turned some heads and rightfully so. How else would you manage to be in two places at once? If anything grabs a teacher's attention, it's the possibility of that!

Thanks to Ms M and Kristen for the feedback. Their comments from my last post raised a very valid point which I had been wrestling with. In a perfect world, we would all have access to all tools and resources but we don't, so we make do with what we have. The students in my school do not have reliable access to the Internet. Many of them do not have a computer in their home so some serious head scratching and problem solving is in order.

I have been considering a few different approaches, mostly around the idea that a video lesson could be used during class time while I support their learning alongside. I am planning to trial them during the last few weeks of school. Today was Attempt 1.

I've read that Thomas Edison once said "I have not failed. I've simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." I really like that because it emphasises, innovation, creativity, effort, commitment, and positivity. I also like it because if I do my calculations right, I only have 9,999 more tries before I am bound to get it right.

Yesterday, I plotted out my first "Flipped" lesson. I scripted, and rehearsed a video lesson that would be all about diamante poems and the parts of speech. After about 8 hours (off and on) of trying to learn how to use Adobe Visual Communicator 3 and getting the wording and timing just so, I was nearly ready to record. Then it happened.

Something looked a little off. What started out looking like a little bit of a lag evolved into a nonresponsive piece of software. What that I thought was a moment where the computer would freeze and then recover with a little patience turned into a message from Adobe citing a "catostrophical error"! I don't know about anyone else, but when a program uses the word catastrophical, I brace for impact. Not many words grab your attention like that one, let me tell you (especially when it comes from the device that has all your planning and digital resources on it).

To make a long story short, the program needs to be reinstalled and this was a trial version that I cannot afford to pay for (I was hoping to talk the school into purchasing the licence) so the 8 hours I spent on my birthday (did I mention that? Yeah, ON MY BIRTHDAY) were lost to the whims of technological failure. Happy birthday.

The downside is obvious; I had wasted hours learning this software and it amounted to nothing useable. I was lucky, though. The fortunate upside was that, due to all the rehearsing, I walked into my classroom today with a better idea of what I needed to say than I have on any other day.

I guess the whole point I'm trying to make is that we all go gaga for technology in the classroom but let this be a cautionary tale that we can't always rely on it. It makes our lives so much easier but putting all of our eggs in that basket carries a risk of error that can be, well, catastrophic.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Flipping out!

Have you heard of this???

I will be the first to admit that I had never heard tell of it before but I am comforted by the fact that as I talk about it with fellow teachers and management staff, they hadn't either. I might even add that they are almost as excited about it as I am (or else they are simply humouring me until I let them be)!

A "flipped classroom" refers to various approaches to teaching but one common theme amongst most applications of the name is that the lessons are delivered in a pocast/video/tutorial-esque manner. My understanding is that the "learning" happens out of the class, while the application of the knowledge and skills is nurtured in class, rather than as homework.

If you are curious, I suggest checking out these links for more info:
If you like words, go here:
and then, (if you are really keen):

I am really excited to be teaching English again next year and have some BIG ideas for how I will incorporate this into my Literacy Passport. If I were to pick a super overarching theme for my class next year, it would be something along the lines of "Developing Independence". Above all, I want my students to be able to seize control of their learning pathway and excel. Like I said, BIG IDEAS and I can see this as a perfect compliment to that direction.

So, have you heard of a flipped classroom? Have you used it or seen it in operation? Let me know what you know! So I can go into this better prepared.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Awesome blogs to check out.

Wow. Over 2 weeks since my last post! The last couple weeks have been crazy with planning for our last term, my cat going missing (2 weeks and still no word - sigh-), and developments for next year that are consuming my limited attention.

So, I have been a bit neglectful with my blogging responsibilities but rest assured I haven't forgotten you all. In fact, I would like to point out that I have updated my blogroll to include several new quality sites that I would love for you to check out! They would love to hear from you. Maybe you could mention that I sent you...that would be swell.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meet Tessa and CA-001 - Voki for the classroom (easy tech)

This is a short entry because if you look to the right of the page, Tessa is right there, waiting to make her debut. So, I'm going to let her do the talking, LITERALLY! CA-001 is there too to show how I will be "employing him". So go ahead and say hi. Then let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Positive Forcasting: Try now for free!

My girlfriend, Alanna, has been attending a series of seminars about behaviour management and came home with a really simple but exciting idea. I know that for some, this is already part of your practice but for the rest of us, try Positive Forecasting.

"What is that?" you ask.

Well, Positive Forecasting is a not-very-complicated term for a not-very-complicated strategy. It won't stain fabrics and it is safe for children of all ages. Best of all, you don't need to buy or make anything!
(Audience of teachers applause uncontrollably)

Here's a demonstration of how Positive Forecasting can work for you:

Traditional Instruction:
Walk to the gym in a quiet single file line.
(Moderate chuckles as teachers see a replay of everytime they go to the gym and students talk and wander and hold hands. Camera zooms in on one teacher telling her neighbour "That's exactly how my students are.")

How many kids will walk to the gym in single file with lame, boring instructions like that? I'll tell you who: just the ones that would have walked to the gym in single file anyways!

Now watch this!

Positive Forecasting:
Now, we're going to walk to the gym quietly. I know you can do this! You know you can do this. You are an AWESOME bunch and staying in a straight, quiet line is going to be easy!
(Audience watches in amazement and erupt into cheers when they arrive. One teacher lady passes out) 

Can you believe it? With Positive Forecasting, the kids were SHAKing with excitement and wanted to show their teacher he was right! They knew they can do it! They arrived with no problems and there were high-fives all around! Awesome!

See the difference Positive Forecasting can make? Positive Forecasting infuses instructions with positive messages in such a way that the students can't bear to disappoint you. And, let's face it, when students don't want to disappoint you, we all win! :)

To get your own Positive Forecasting, simply tell your kids how easy the task is going to be! Be that inspiration they need and make them see the success before they even start.

Easy, eh? You are so clever, it will be a piece of cake for you! I know you can totally do this in your class!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Punctuation Ninjas

Sometimes it just happens. You think the lesson is pretty decent and then, KAPOW! From out of nowhere (like a ninja) an idea strikes and the whole lesson is nothing less than wicked! That's how Punctuation Ninjas was born.

It was an average lesson about editing our writing and the students had been hunting for errors in a text that was up on the Smartboard. I knew it was taking longer than I had expected but when I nervously looked at the clock I may very well have said aloud 'Oh, my! How will I get through all of this before the bell?' In a moment of pseudo-desperation and makeshift brilliance, I instructed the class that I would read through the passage and they were to raise their hand where there should be a full stop. Simple enough. They followed the instructions and were doing okay.

Then it happened. (WP) stood up at the back of the class and rather than raising his hand, he was pushing it forward at waist height. Are you thinking what I was thinking? I stopped in my tracks.

"Etu (maori for stand)! To your feet!" I instructed and quickly explained that we would open-palm-punch at waist height (like a Jedi 'push', if that helps) for full stops, do the same but add a straight forearm and hand above for exclamation marks, and an angled forearm with a bent wrist for questions. Naturally, each of these are followed by a capital letter so we began each sentence by raising our arms out in a big circle and back in to a prayer/"domo arigato Mr Squires" stance until the next piece of punctuation.

The engagement was incredible! They were so excited everytime we reached a full stop. They loved the exclamation marks. They could barely contain themselves when the reader asked a question! Now I have big ideas about colons, commas and apostrophes. I have to admit I never knew I had ninjas in my classroom, but I guess that's the way they like it.

 No students were harmed in the learning of this punctuation.
All actions were performed by trained, professional students.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Science Fair

Well, it's that time of the year at my school! It's a time of beakers and bunsen burners, test tubes and tally charts, hypotheses and headaches...yes, it's science fair time at my school!!

I love science. If I could bring myself to say I 'Puffy Heart' anything, Science might be that something. It was one of my favourite subjects. The kinaesthetic kid in me was free for forty minutes as we tried, tinkered, and tested questions in the search for understanding. The mess was a price I was willing to pay to see things spark, smoke, sink, slide, sit, swing or sizzle (try saying THAT five times, fast).

And now that you're done trying to say "spark, smoke, sink, slide, sit, swing or sizzle" five times fast, I can get back to my point.

I have mIxEd oPiNiOnS about science fairs.

Some demonstrations are wicked and child produced and show some real curiousity combined with investigation.

Then there are those that lack in these departments and I can't help but think 'the point was lost' and that makes me sad. And forgive me when I say part of this let down is on the teachers.

Now, put away the torches and the pitchforks! I said 'PART' (see above). Let me explain. Teachers are not entirely to blame. There are other reasons science fair projects flop (lazy kids, poor resources, not enough parent support, too much parent support, ...the list goes on) but the reason that is directly in our power to change is our comfort and knowledge in how to make a fantastic scientific inquiry and share our findings.

So here's help ("finally," you say.)
Kevin Temmer created this 15 minute video which will help you and your students understand AND get excited about the science fair. It is funny and informative and I think many people will find some value in it, whether it be for their class or just for themselves (a small percentage will just wonder why they wasted 15 minutes watching it.).

So go ahead, watch and learn and give your students the chance to DIG for the answers! Because that's what science fairs are all about.

And for crying out loud, will you please put those pitchforks away??

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Top Ten? Yeeah! and what to do with pegboard

First of all, I have to say that I am truly honoured to be named one of Pam's Top Ten blogs over at Vintage Teacher! Given the calibre of her blog, to even be considered is a real compliment and if you haven't been by her blog, you should check it out (and the other fantastic blogs that she chose).

Secondly, I have a confession.

My name's Liam ('Hi Liam') and I am a horde-aholic. I have a difficult time a really hard time  an impossible time throwing things away. It is always an epic internal debate when I find myself standing with an freshly emptied jar. The recycling bin beckons me.

"This way, Liam" it says softly. "You have no need for that."

"Nonsense!" another voice protests! "That pickle jar would be perfect ... for something... just you wait. You will regret discarding it, of that you can be sure!"

The feeling that you get when something you have stubbornly kept for far too long suddenly finds it's calling can be defined in a word: Awesome! I love those moments because it justifies all the other items that are still waiting in the wings. Like little actors listening for their cue to enter from stage-left. Triumphantly, the horns pronounce an epic VICTORY for the hero and the people rejoice.

The reason I am going on and on about this is that I have a piece of pegboard. It's a good sized piece, about 4' x 3', if I remember correctly. It's white on one side and it's unpainted on the other.  The problem: I don't have a clue what I am going to do with it! It has sat in my class for WEEKS now and I am getting frustrated that it hasn't met it's purpose yet. I've seen one good idea already on Jack of All Trades but I want to see what else you come up with.

Consider this Liam's Creative Challenge #01 
So, dear reader, I ask you. What would you do with pegboard? (and before you ask, there is no prize for the winner, just the satisfaction of a job well done. Besides, that's what we tell the kids is important, right?)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Daily Decontamination

Amy at FirstThingsFirst is having a linky party (I still don't think I'm totally comfortable saying that phrase) about the "simple things". Well, here's mine. I call it Daily Decontamination and it goes like dis:

It's a simple system for controlling unending paperflow. I mean the little bits of paper that follow the current of the day but ultimately lodge themselves on your desk. The memos, the notes from parents, the permission slips that get handed to you as you are speaking to a colleague, the flyers for upcoming professional development opportunities, and the numerous other sheets that magically arrive at your desk throughout the day with no explanation. If your desk is anything like mine, it ressembles a riverbank, lined with a tangle of paper seaweed and Post-it pebbles.

Daily Decontamination is a short session that I built into my "End of the Day Routine" and (in keeping with the analogy) is kind of like a River Clean-up Project. It works in 5 easy steps. Instead of typing it all out, I have JUST THIS MOMENT (inspired by Amy's learning) learned how to link a picture to a Google Doc and am posting my first freebie (insert rejoicing sounds here). I keep this posted on my desk as a reminder to decontaminate every day. Call it "OvEr ThE tOp" if you like but that's just the way I do things. So here it is...I hope you enjoy it...I hope you tell me you enjoy it...I hope you really mean it and aren't just saying it because I'm soliciting some positive feedback...

Okay, go ahead now. Check it out (and tell me what you think).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Classroom Management: MEGA Chart

Hi friends. Welcome back.

Page visits, comments, and the like are at a bit of a slump this month. It probably has something to do with the fact that I really have been slack on the upkeep of this site throughout August.

Alas, here is something that I hope will get you commenting! Way back in June a linky party started up over at Miss Kindergarten's. You probably know this already because you have posted your fabulous ideas there already. Old news, I know. The New news is this one that I am about to share.

NEW? Well, it's new for me, it's new for my class, and it's new for the teachers that are at my school adopting it into their teaching. It's like a ladder system that many of you have shared but I call it my MEGA Chart.
Everybody's alright ;)

It goes like this:

Before the MEGA Chart, I was extremely dissappointed to keep reading comments back from other teachers that students were off-task, calling out, playing around, "had no ears" (direct quote, no offence to people who have no ears), and there was even a comment that some of the boys were pulling each other's pants down! C'mon, REALLY? Yeah...and these had gotten gradually worse over the past weeks. Something had to be done.
My MEGA Chart is an individual-based consequence and reward system that is SUPER adaptable into different environments. I use it with 11-13 year olds and it has made an awesome improvement so far. If you have kids that go away to another teacher for another subject (or another teacher comes into your room to teach them) make sure you read the black part at the end so I don't BORE everyone else with it now. I need to keep them all as long as I can...

Way to go, guys!

What I do differently is this. The MEGA Chart is not an immediate response to actions. It's summative. I know a lot of teachers use it as a way to instantly correct behaviour and there is nothing wrong with that but I wanted moving up and down on this chart to be a pretty big deal. Instead, it is reactive to an overall impression that would sum up their behaviour.

While using their manners is very nice (and for some of my students it can be a real accomplishment), it won't usually get them up to Great. Expected behaviour does not move their name. Positive behaviour moves their name UP. Negative behaviour moves them down. Each tier has it's own consequence. If you are in an awesome school that has their students divided into houses/teams, the buy-in can be pretty easy. Just using your own class rewards will work, too. Magnificent at the end of the day = 5 pts, Excellent = 3 pts, Great = 2 pts, Alright = 1 pt.

Yep. Even if they don't move at all, they get a point. If they move down, you can have your own consequences but mine are a graduation through school-wide consequences. I don't like to keep kids in at lunch but sometimes, a moment away from their peers to have a conversation with me is all it takes to get them back on track. (As I explained what would happen at each Strike, I told them "You don't even want to KNOW what Strike 4 means...". They got the idea that it would be pretty terrible and left it at that.)

With my kids that go to other teachers, getting those teachers to record the "Stars" and those who misbehave in a little notebook is all I need to make sure the behaviour transfers to other classes and playing in the yard. when they return, I make a deal about those who have moved up and quietly move others down. A beautiful side effect is that it shows the students that the teachers are all on the same page and supportive of each other and the consequences are consistent across the subjects.  

The results:
It has been two days and this MEGA Chart is creating a bit of a stir. Students have been (mostly) on task, (generally) following instructions, and (as a whole) WAY easier to teach. This isn't just MY opinion. the teachers that take my class have noticed a change. Some students that were historically difficult have come back to class excited that they were written down as a star! That is success!

The sceptic will say "it's a honeymoon period. Give it a couple weeks" and they are right. What will happen in a few weeks when they get over the system is yet to be determined but I believe a system can last as long as the teacher's motivation to maintain it. I like to think I'm pretty motivated.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

General Health Warning: Be Your Best

In the spirit of sharing, I've got something for you all. Here in New Zealand, the days are getting l-o-n-g-e-r, the weathers getting brighter and the temperature is going up, up, UP! While this sounds lovely, there's an unfortunate link between this weather trend and a ScArY reality for many students. Affecting millions of children around the world, the fading of winter brings a sudden and infectious onset of Springus Feveritis.

I find myself now wrangling kids who have a seamingly unsatiable need to make strange noises, poke, prod, push, pull, and pester. It's not their fault. I know that. But sheesh, can they just give the giggling a break for a FEW MINUTES?!  

Anyways, here's a quote I came across in in a friend's classroom and asked if I could use it. He didn't mind much since he borrowed it, too. I introduced it last week and I feel like it's just what the doctor ordered.

I love its message and I love the delicious simplicity of it. No elaborate decoding, no real tough words, and no phone-a-friend required, just short, simple, punchy, and powerful. I love it. Like "together, everyone achieves more", the message is in line with the word it stems from and kids of all ages should be able to get it...even with the most severe case of Springus Feveritis!

The beauty of this is that all you beautiful Northern Hemispherers can use this as a sort of preventitive measure. Think of it like a flu vaccine for your sanity. Who could say no to that?
Now, neither of us know the quote's origin so if you know where it is from, let me know and I can reference the author. I like to give credit where it's due.

Speaking of credit, the font is Cajun Boogie ( but the graphics are my own doing.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

So Jealous!

This is but a wee one to let you all know how GREEN with envy I am at the moment. I could plaster this on each of your blogs but your numbers are far too great and I would never finish...

...but you know who you are. You energised and excited interior designers that are filling the blogrolls far and wide with Befores and Afters and Works in Progress. Posting pictures about how you are laying out your reading corner and your clutter-free desk, you really don't know what bittersweet torture this is for me, do you?

Yes, even MY OWN BLOGROLL is against me as it taunts me daily with updates, eager ambitions, and glorious creative projects that would have made my life so much easier if you had only posted them back in January.

Oh, the inhumanity of it all!

Don't you worry though. Seasons change and in a few months, you will be in the thick of it and I will be bombarding you all with updates of my classroom as it was, as it will be, and every painstaking step of the way. You will cry out "I wish I was setting up my classroom!" just as I am now. And in that moment, you will know but a fraction of my suffering. For I am only one, and you far, far, FAR outnumber me!

But I guess what I am saying is "be kind". Have some decency about all this inspiration you are throwing around. Be considerate about how carelessly you fling around those countless moments of brilliance... because you're making it hard to concentrate!

...but if you are one of those people or are looking for some of these ideas that I am ranting on and on and ON about, please check out my blogroll and visit these brilliant people. Tell them I sent you. Then tell them I was talking about them! Cheers!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Literacy Passport, pt 2: Independent Reading

The next few entries in this series will expand on my approach to the Daily 5. Today's component is:

1. Independent Reading - This is a gorgeous, relaxing getaway for two - you and a book! Just as it sounds, students get the opportunity to cozy up with a book and read quietly to themselves.

Independent Reading is not a complicated task and students are not responsible for much in the time provided. Students self-select a text that the "PICK", they record the date and the title, they read, and finally (and the most challenging) they think about what they have read. That's it! C'est ca!

I intentionally ask for very little from my students in this time so they can read as much as possible. In a 30 minute window, a lot of reading can be enjoyed. Once you ask student to record answers on worksheets about their writing, time that could have been spent on reading skills is lost. I think it is just as effective to have a casual conversation with the student.

I guess what it comes down to is a very simple, yet potentially heated debate.

What's more meaningful: a daily dose of one to two written sentences that respond to a predetermined set of questions, or an verbal conversation where questions can respond to the preceding answers? 28 minutes of reading and a 2 minute conversation, or 20 minutes of reading and a 10 minute response exercise?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Literacy Passport, pt 1: Adapting The Daily 5

As promised, here's an update to how I am integrating the Daily 5 into my teaching practice.

I have chosen to refer to my literacy approach as the Literacy Passport (I can hear the collective 'ooooh, tell me more' of teachers everywhere). I like the analogy of literacy learning as a journey with stops along the way. An eager traveller is always seeking new sights and adventures and a lifelong learner should approach reading in the same way. Excited to broaden their experiences, globetrotters enjoy where they are but are always looking ahead to where they can go to next. Developing readers and writers look forward to what they can do next to improve their skills.

 The Literacy Passport draws upon this metaphor. A passport is ongoing record of where travellers have been. Similarly, students monitor what they have done each week (or pronounced "where they have been"). It is not good enough to simply stay at one activity; a diverse range of experiences provide a broader understanding of the world. You won't really know what it is like in Spain unless you go there. That's why a range of activities build a fluency that is unobtainable by simply doing one activity over and over. As a teacher, I'm kinda like their travel agent. "Oh, this would be a great place to check out this time of year." I can show them fun places to go, but in the end, it's their decision.

So where can they go? For that, we will need a few brochures. (if you think this next little bit looks vaguely familiar, I modified it from this earlier post. Shhhh.)

1. Independent Reading - This is a gorgeous, relaxing getaway for two - you and a book! Just as it sounds, students get the opportunity to cozy up with a book and read quietly to themselves.

2. Reader's Theatre - This is a real fun adventure that you can enjoy with friends! Students get to choose a script, become a character, and read through it using voice and expression.

3. Just Write -This is the trip that you control! There are no boundaries when you are writing from your head and limits are endless! Fight dragons, save a dying unicorn, or recount your weekend, students write whatever you like...just write.

4. Writing Right - This is the place for real personal challenge! Students work on editing a text's  vocabulary, punctuation, spelling and more. 

 So there you have it. These are the activities that students are expected invited to visit each week. The order is up to them, as long as they get through each stop. Get your passports ready. This is the final call for Literacy Express. ALL ABOARD!

(Source Disclaimer: I am by no means trying to take credit for this program. As I post this series, I will continue to use the Daily 5 label but will be using the Literacy Passport title. The Daily 5 structure was a springboard off of which I have re-launched previous literacy activities I had been running. This should appease the copyright folks and also make these posts easier to follow for teachers who are investigating the implementation of an adapted Daily 5 program, beit mine or any other form. If you or someone you know are considering a Daily 5 approach, consult the book for more information. If you curious about other things I've said about the Daily 5, click here. Of you like what you found here, share it, follow it, or comment below...Better yet, do all THREE! Phew!)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Matt Damon speaks for teachers.

In case you haven't seen or heard this, I thought I would share it along. It doesn't really require a whole lot of explaining. Feel free to comment on it below.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Daily 5, pt 3: Independence Day

Continuing from before, the biggest change to my classroom operations is the addition of choice and with that comes independence.

Those are SCARY words! Even The Sisters, who wrote The Daily 5, accept that cutting the cord of control can be a frightening decision to make. Funny creatures, we teachers are. We like students who show independence but we like to control it. We want students to manage themselves but we obsess over managing our classroom. We strive to get students engaged in the task that we prescribe for them. Then we wonder why little So-and-so won`t do as he is asked.

Independence day (in the classroom sense) is about coming to terms with the fact that students can make the right decisions if they are given the opportunity. Having taught the skills and expectations that are required to be successful, we need to let them think about how they are going to learn on each day. Let them manage themselves and help them if they struggle. Let them make a choice and guide them if they make poor ones. To really make the point, consider this:

If you instruct a child to read, they know that they have two choices: 'do' or 'do not'. Instruct a child to choose between a list of activities and 'do not' is seldom considered.

So the day approaches.

It is only a matter of days until I explain to my classes how and why they will be trusted as independent and responsible learners. Cross your fingers and stay tuned.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Daily 5, pt 2: Choice

This is just a short one to a) let you all know I haven't completely vanished, and b) update anyone who is interested in how I am adapting the Daily 5 program into my teaching. Due to the scheduling at my school, I get my English classes in 50 minute blocks each day. Add to that the time it takes my class to arrive at my door and settle and we are down to about 45 minutes. That's not a lot of time so my Daily 5 is weekly.

Each week, my students check in with me and have the following options:

1. Independent Reading - Just as it sounds, students read quietly to themselves.

2. Reader`s Theatre - Students choose a script, assume a character, and read through it using voice and expression.

3. Free Writing - The kids I teach like Free Running. I liken it to that but with a pencil. Write whatever you like...just write. (...hmm... that might be a better name for this activity...)

4. Writing Skills - Students work on editing a text, vocabulary, punctuation, or whatever I identify as the focus for the week. 

One of my concerns that I expressed in an earlier post, was that I was nervous about starting up something new without really knowing what I am getting into. As I started to draft up what this program would look like in my classroom, I was thrilled to realize that I already do most of these things! Reader`s Theatre will be a new addition to the classroom and Writing Skills will look different but the biggest change to my English classes will be the increase in choice and independence. Pretty sweet, eh!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

You Tube to Mp3? Yes, Please!

I took today as a sick day as I was battling a horrible virus that has mostly seemed to pass. After sleeping away most of the day, I got on to being quasi-productive with planning and then slipped into surfing blogs to find some answers. In doing so, I came across Tales of a Teacherista who had posted about building a library of songs for her classroom. Its such a fun, cheap, and easy way to liven up the classroom. In that post, she explained how to use Real Player to download You Tube videos as Mp3 audio files.

That's exactly how I used to do it, too, but similar to the comments on Mrs. Pollard's post suggest, you need to download Real Player to use it and my experience is that you can't move the file once you save it onto your computer. If it isn't working for you if can be Headache City. Here's a nice and easy alternative that was shared with me!

Step 1: Find the video you want from You Tube
Step 2: Copy the URL from the address bar (CTRL C)
Step 3: Go to
Step 4: Replace the URL that is in the textbox with yours (CTRL V) and click "convert video"
Step 5: Wait a few minutes. Perhaps pour yourself a coffee. If it is a short video, you might not have time though. Sorry.
Step 6: When it is all finished, click on "download", then "save". Choose where you want it saved and what you want to call it. Click "Save"
Step 7: Go to and tell everyone how much easier this has made your life!

Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7!
Now if you didn't get to pour that coffee, now is your chance.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Daily 5...any input?

That's it! I have made up my mind and I can't begin to tell you all how excited I am! My girlfriend was given "The Daily Five" as a gift last year and I have decided to implement most of the ideas it contains. I teach three different English classes and I am going to pilot it with the one I also teach Hauora to (loosely translated to Health in the North American curriculum). This class is most likely to forgive any struggles that are bound to arise. Once it is operational, I can then take it to my other classes. I'm excited about the ideas that The Sisters put forth so I look forward to seeing how this works out for me.

But here's my hesitation: I like to weigh big decisions like this out before I commit. It's not that I'm afraid of failure...I just don't like cleaning up all that mess.

So, have you had any experience working with the Daily 5? If you have, do you have any secrets that might make this endeavour a little less painful? Please share!

 I look forward to your advice and input...

"Clean-up in aisle 3, please..."

Gotta go.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blog stalking? Who? ME??

Over at Clutter-Free Classrooms, I was again reminded that North America is wrapping up for their summer holiday as New Zealand is nearly halfway done the year. Oh, Canadian Summers, how I miss thee.  

The question was raised, asking what blogs we stalk. 'Stalk?' I wondered. Hmm...not sure if I like that word.

Well here they are. Check them out and enjoy.

Yep. That's about all I follow so far. Maybe in a few weeks that list will be ten times longer!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

They grow up so fast...

This is a shameless self-promotion (I think that's is MY blog, afterall).

After an epic battle with html, and with the support of Kristen at Ladybug here (for navigation buttons) and here (for centering), I get to announce some awesome upgrades! The Navigation Buttons above are fully customized (sweet!) and I have a Blog Button (double-sweet!)!! Now you can be the coolest kid on the block blog with your very own Twist of Liam Blog Button. Just imagine how cool you will be with such a vibrant addition to your page.

To put it bluntly, please add my button to your page!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Scattergories in Writing Time!

Scattergories box
Here's an adaptation of a great board game for your English program. I've used Scattergories as a warm up for my classes and the students LOVE IT. Students are put into teams (my class is in house groups so thats already sorted for me) and they are given about 4 categories. Each team works from the same categories. These can be made up to match your classes needs or a theme you are about to start/finish. Some examples would be: a food, something that fits in a shoebox, something that is round, something you find at the beach, an adjective... you get the idea.

Call out a letter and each team needs to come up with ONE word for each category that starts with that letter. They cannot use an answer for more than one category.
When the timer is up (I give about 2 minutes for 11 yr olds), they share the ONE answer they have for that category. If no one else said the word, they get one point (yay!). Any teams that have the same answer recieve no points (aw, man!). That means teams need to work quietly so the other teams don't hear their answers. I can see you smiling already.

It's important to mention that the more teams you have, the more likely it is that answers will cancel out and, take it from me, choose friendly letters when you start out. Not many Third Graders will come up with answers for each category if you give them letter 'X'. That's just mean. So for Team Liam, we might write for the above categories and the letter 'R': Rhubarb, Rat, Rubber ball, Rocks, Rude. Play as many rounds as you feel appropriate.

Pros: quiet working, cooperative, involves lots of thinking, requires very little material, promotes creativity.
Cons: if you have students play individually, it takes FOREVER to score (trust me), students love it and don't want to stop playing. 

So STARTING A UNIT on oceans? Getting into a big CREATIVE WRITING task? Have a few OVERUSED words in your class? This just might be what you are looking for. Cheers!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Beauty (and ugly side) of Competition

Growing up, school was always the same for me. Year to year, it was always the same old routine until my mom remarried and we moved schools. Suddenly, I was thrown into a school system that was completely foreign to me. The student population was divided into four teams and every term, there was a big event when competed in some sort of challenge in the name of our team colour (I think I was Gold but I can't be sure). It was hyped up and when the day finally arrived, it was incredible fun. If you've ever muttered the word Gryffindor, you'll have some sort of idea of what I'm talking about.

I'm in my second year of teaching now and can remember my excitement as I was offered a job at a school that followed a similar practice. Four houses competing to be the best each week. Good behaviour, successes, helpfulness, improvement, the ways in which a student can earn 'house points' are vast and unlimited; they are never taken away.  What's more is that staff are allocated to houses as well. I'm in the best house. ;)

One of the things I love about this system is that it encourages healthy competition. Without competition, we become comfortable and unmotivated. Progress will never occur if we are not driven to improve ourselves and the world around us. As I see it, pushing ourselves to be better than before should be our primary purpose in life (Note: I didn't say 'being better that everyone else'). Competition gives endless opportunities for our students to do the right thing. It allows students to work together toward a common goal. Teamwork, oh, how I love thee.

Another advantage to a house point system is that it creates an environment where students can rehearse and demonstrate good sportsmanship. Winning with grace and losing with dignity are such important skills. Playing fairly and striving to improve are healthy, natural, and unavoidable values for professional success and in games and sport, students can develop them. Teachers are constantly modelling these skills and beliefs. Usually.

The ugly side of competition is that we often forget the goal. We invent games like hockey, baseball, football, rugby, tennis, etcetera, etcetera ... truly for one purpose: entertainment. For fun. But somehow that focus gets lost and forgotten in pursuit of a trophy, medal, title, or fame. Competition turns vicious, points become the purpose and the fun is lost.

We find ourselves keeping score in terms of points instead of smiles. Instead of lifting ourselves up, we push each other down. Instead of the journey, the final result is what we fixate on. Instead of celebrating a competitor's triumph, we wallow in our own defeat. Case in point: money. The all-powerful way of keeping score on a global scale, we have lost our goal of progress in pursuit of monetary points.

While some will say that it's inappropriate to have this sort of system in a school, I whole-heartedly disagree. The ugly side of competition is a natural byproduct. If it's not worked out during childhood and adolescence, students will be unprepared to handle coming second place. They may not even be prepared to handle winning first!

So, what to do? As role models, we have a responsibility to model how to enjoy winning without being obnoxious. We must show children how to accept defeat without turning sour. We need to show students that winning isn't everything and losing isn't the end of the world. I love to win as much as the next person and I will smile a lot wider if my team wins but a "wait till next time" attitude will trump a "you cheated" protest anyday.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pick a kid, any kid... Continued.

I have had requests for more details so here they are.

I was going to upload it Google Docs but it reformatted the file to the point of unusable. A PDF would have been useless unless you had the same class list as I do, which I doubt. Instead, here's a quick and easy process to make your own. I'm working with Word so Macfolk, you will have to follow as best you can.
1. Insert a 1x1 table. At the top, click 'Layout' and 'Split Cells'. a dialogue box should pop up. Change it so it says
"Number of Columns: 4"
"Number of Rows: 4"

2. Drag the bottom border to the bottom of the page so it fillls the page nicely. Click 'Layout', 'Distribute Rows'. Magical!

3.The rest is up to your own creative genius. Whatever you do, watch that you don't change the size of the cells or else the cards will be different sizes. Row 1 is the face of four cards, Row 2 is the back, Row 3 is the face of another four cards, Row 4 is the back of those cards.

4. When it looks good, print it off.
 If you cut the margins off and cut between Row 2 and 3, you just need to fold them up and laminate them.

Hope that helps! Maybe one day I will get really fancy and start doing video tutorials...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pick a kid, any kid...

The curtain rises on a lesson in progress...

The teacher is rapt by the way the lesson is going. Johnny and Mary are eager and raising their hand for every question. Other students are following along but then you spot...under a fast asleep...

Okay. First of all, I never really had a student fall asleep during my lesson (yet) but I had an appraisal late last year and the discussion that followed got onto the topic of student engagement. I used wait-time and Think-Pair-Share but then I always called on the hands that were raised. Great for the students who were engaged and easily focussed but there was an unsettling flipside to my tact that her perspective revealed.

A student who wanted to zone out had a really easy escape plan, she explained:
Hand up = have to participate
Hand down = naptime!

I was crushed and devastated and appalled and set myself to do something about it at once.

The result was a small deck of laminated cards that were about the size of a business card. Each deck had a student's name on it. there were others in the deck that said "Hand Up" and others that said "Hand Down". Further, My class is split into houses (Yes, like Hogwart's! It's part of a school-wide program) so I have a few of each 'house'.

How effective is it, I'm sure you are dying to ask. Well I am happy to report it was fantastic. Dopey-eyed dreamers sat up a little straighter. Chatty Cathys were a little more attentive. A little anxiety can go a long way, I guess.
(DISCLAIMER: The deck of cards aren't the fix-all in itself. A teacher can't expect every student that is randomly put on the spot to have the answer, so its important to apply this tool with a sensitivity to that. Phew.)

After putting it into practice, The Deck (as it has been dubbed) is also great for choosing volunteers, picking line leaders, making teams, chopping vegetables, and washing dishes. Just kidding about the dishes. I was just making sure you were still paying attention.

That's it. I hope you found this useful. My apologies to Jimmys and Cathys everywhere.

Talking Points:
What other uses do you have for a deck of your own?

What do you use to maintain some level of random selection?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fonts Galore!

I love fonts. I love how they can make a project that little bit closer to perfect. was shared with me and I have spent many hours cruising the list of fonts available for free download.

I challenge you to go through what's available and NOT find a font that works for your project. Some favourites of mine include "For the One Hundredth Time", "Cratch", Britcomics", "Cajun Boogie", Blackout", and "Agent Orange". Go forth and then come back and tell me your fav. Betcha can't pick just one!
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